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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gyeongnam FC

K League 1 Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Gyeongnam FC

Second plays third this Sunday afternoon as Gyeongnam FC travel to Ulsan Hyundai for what promises to be a ding-dong battle between two of the league's strongest attacking sides.  Both teams boast impressive unbeaten streaks, but who will take the upper hand as the race for ACL qualification reaches its climax?  Dan Croydon and James Edrupt preview this crucial match.
(image via kleague.com)

Game:  Ulsan Hyundai v Gyeongnam FC
Venue:  Munsu Stadium, Ulsan
Kick off:  Sunday, October 28th  16:00 (KST)

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Gangwon FC
Ulsan got back to winning ways after two frustrating draws in a row, when they comfortably saw off a lacklustre Gangwon FC last Saturday at Munsu Stadium.  Gangwon desperately needed a win to stand any chance of finishing in the top half of the table, but they were unable to create much going forward all afternoon.  Indeed, the home team showed far more attacking ambition from the start, although some wasteful finishing meant it was still scoreless at the break.

The game pivoted on the introduction of Han Seung-kyu. The 22-year-old entered the game at halftime and again showed why he is being strongly touted as the Young Player of the Season with two more assists, the first a corner headed home by Park Yong-woo, the second a strong run and beautifully weighted pass that fed in Junior to score his nineteenth goal of the season.  There was late controversy as Junior had an injury-time goal ruled out by VAR despite all the replays showing no clear evidence the decision on the pitch was wrong. But by then the game was already over as a contest as the Horangi kept pace with Gyeongnam in the race for second place, while Gangwon will have to face the relegation contenders in their remaining five fixtures.
Match highlights

Previous Meetings

The league title may already have been decided, but for avid K League followers, the battle for the runners-up will be something to keep an eye on at the top end of the table. Ulsan sit just two points behind their local rivals, with the same goal difference, but importantly, one less goal scored.  The final ranking may indeed rest on such fine margins with just five games to go.

Both sides are in excellent form too. Gyeongnam have lost just once in their last twelve away games, while Ulsan have won nine of their last ten home matches in all competitions. Since July, only Jeonbuk have managed to leave Munsu with anything to show for their troubles, thanks to that late Lee Dong-gook penalty earlier this month.

With very little separating them in the league table, it is no surprise that the three meetings so far this campaign have all ended in ties.  The first was a 0-0 at Gyeongnam back in April, followed by a 1-1 in Ulsan a month later - Hwang Il-soo netting a first-half penalty before Jung Jae-yong saw red and Marcao equalised on the hour.

Then in the final regular season fixture in hot and humid Changwon, it seemed that Ulsan had finally got one over on their Gyeongsangnam-do rivals.  The Horangi were three-nil up and seemingly cruising to victory. But when Choi Young-jun scored for Gyeongnam in the 80th minute, the pendulum swang completely in the host's favour.  Marcao (who else?) scored not once, but twice in injury time to snatch a dramatic 3-3 draw for Gyeongnam, leaving Ulsan to rue another late collapse away from home.

Team News

Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon will be desperate to get off to a winning start to this year's Championship round (the ill-fitting name for the top half of the split.) Memories of his team's terrible form at the tail end of 2017 must still haunt his dreams.  Four losses in a row meant Ulsan fell out of the ACL places and Kim looked to be for the chop.  In the end, ACL qualification through the FA Cup win, the club's first silverware in five years, was enough to save Kim's job. But Kim will not want to repeat the same mistakes again, and so will be urging his squad to remain focused in the final weeks of the campaign.

Luckily for him, Ulsan have none of the injury problems they did last year, so yet again the manager has close to a full squad to pick from for Sunday's match.  One change from the side that beat Gangwon is guaranteed though; left-back Lee Myung-jae is serving a one-match suspension, so Park Joo-ho will almost certainly take his place in the back four,  having fully recovered from his exploits with the Korean national team a fortnight back.

Who To Watch

Han Seung-kyu (Ulsan Hyundai)

The ex-Yonsei University student has steadily gained more and more plaudits over the last year to the point now where he is seen as one of the most promising attacking players Korea has to offer.  The 22-year-old first caught the eye of most Korean football fans when he bagged two goals in the AFC Under 23s Championships back in January.  In the nine months since, Han has gone from strength to strength, scoring memorable goals against FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings, and forming an excellent understanding with Ulsan's Brazilian marksman Junior Negao. 

Watch out for Han's outstanding first touch and his willingness to run at opposition defenders. His low centre of gravity and close control make him difficult to stop in and around the box, and he does not think twice about taking a shot if given the chance.  He may ultimately lose out to Jeonbuk's outstanding young keeper Song Bum-keun for the title of Young Player of the Year, but Han Seung-kyu is certainly a name to remember for the coming years.

The Adversary

Gyeongnam go into Sunday's clash with some added confidence after beating a somewhat depleted Sangju Sangmu outfit 2-1 last week to maintain their ACL push in their first season back in the top flight.  The Reds were buoyed by the return of Marcao from injury after a three-game lay off due to a knock he picked up away against Incheon United in late September.  He marked his return by scoring the opener from the spot after winger Bae Ki-jong was bundled over in the box.  He continued to be a menace for the Sangju backline all afternoon.  Another stand out performer was without a doubt Japanese playmaker Takahiro Kunimoto who was instrumental in everything the home side did in the final third.  He has such a wonderful footballing brain for one so young.  Throughout Gyeongnam's somewhat stuttering form of late Kunimoto has still maintained outstanding performances.  He and all the Gyeongnam players will need to be on top of their game if they are to get anything from the trip to the Munsu this Sunday afternoon.

Match highlights

Manager Kim Jung-boo has the luxury of having a full-strength squad to call upon with no suspensions keeping any players from watching from the stands.  This game has all the ingredients to be a really good high-intensity game with two high-quality sides pitting their wits against each other.  Gyeongnam know no other way but to attack their opposition, while on paper Ulsan have one of the best squads in the league. Gyeongnam will need to have their wits about them on Sunday as Ulsan can easily pick them off if they the Reds leave gaps defensively and go all gung-ho in attack.  It's a very close game to call this one in my opinion.  I'm going to sit well and truly on the fence with this one and say it will finish as a score draw.
by James Edrupt


It is indeed a tough game to call. With Ulsan creating so many chances at home, it would be impossible to see them not scoring a couple of goals over the course of the 90 minutes. But Gyeongnam have been fearless all season and in Marcao they have a player who can score goals from absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, I think Ulsan's post-split nerves will get the better of them and the game will finish all-square for the fourth time this campaign.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-2 Gyeongnam FC

This game has been selected as the K League Worldwide match for the round meaning you can tune into the match from anywhere in the world for free! To watch the match, click here.

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